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The FCC announced late today that the freeze that has been in place since April 2013 which prevents full-power and Class A TV stations from filing applications to expand their coverage areas will be lifted temporarily, likely before the end of this year.  The lifting of the freeze allows stations that were not repacked following the Broadcast Incentive Auction to file minor modification applications to expand their signal for the first time in nearly five years.

Earlier this year, television stations that were repacked filed applications specifying facilities on their new channel assignments.  A small group of repacked stations that were unable to build on their assigned channel, and stations that were predicted to receive excessive interference as a result of the repack, were allowed to file applications for different facilities in a priority filing window that closed on September 15.  A second priority window for repacked stations to further modify their facilities is currently underway.  CommLawCenter reported on these various repack milestones here and here.

Today’s announcement alerts full-power and Class A TV stations which were not repacked that the freeze on filing modification applications will be lifted temporarily some time after the second priority window for repacked stations closes on November 2, but before a planned Special Displacement Window for LPTV stations is opened, which is predicted to occur early next year.

Given the timing of those two windows, the odds seem good that the temporary lifting of the freeze will occur before the end of this calendar year.  By allowing these stations to file modification applications before the opening of next year’s LPTV window, the FCC hopes to avoid having LPTV stations file in that window only to find their newly authorized facilities subsequently displaced by full-power and Class A TV stations that have been waiting to file a modification application since 2013.

While the freeze is lifted, applications to modify facilities will be accepted on a first come, first served basis.  Only applications that qualify as minor modifications will be permitted.  The temporary lifting of the freeze also means that processing of modification applications that were pending in April of 2013 can resume.

In this complex game of upgrade chess, LPTV station licensees should file any minor modification applications they are contemplating as soon as possible, since the FCC indicates that the filing of those types of applications will be frozen 30 days prior to the opening of the LPTV Special Displacement Window.  Such is the freeze-thaw cycle at the FCC.

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As we noted back in April (has it really been that long ago?) when the FCC first announced the TV spectrum repack deadlines, TV stations being repacked now have yet another quarterly filing obligation.  Television stations transitioning to a new channel in the repack must file a quarterly Transition Progress Report by the 10th of October, January, April, and July.  Yesterday, the FCC issued a Public Notice reminding stations of this obligation.

Each transitioning television station must electronically file the report (FCC Form 387) informing the FCC and public of the station’s progress towards constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and terminating operations on its current channel.  The quarterly reporting requirement will continue for each repacked station until the station has completed its transition and filed a final report indicating that it has done so.

While it is still early in the transition process, it is a mistake to assume that stations will have little to report in this first filing.  The Form 387 asks a number of baseline questions, such as whether a station needs to conduct a structural analysis of its tower, obtain any non-FCC permits or FAA Determinations of No Hazard, or order specific types of equipment to complete the transition.

Depending on a station’s response to a question, the electronic form will then ask for additional information regarding that particular subject.  For example, if a station indicates that it needs to make structural changes to its tower, it will be prompted to provide information about whether those changes are major and if so, whether they have been scheduled or completed.  In some cases, narrative responses may be necessary.

Ultimately, the form requires each station to indicate whether it anticipates that it will receive its equipment and complete any needed tower work in time to meet the construction deadline for its transition phase.

Don’t let the simple Yes/No appearance of the Form 387 fool you.  It requires input from both engineering and management personnel, and future reports will then be compared against the baseline it creates.  In other words, it would be a mistake to merely leave the task to the person who handles your other quarterly FCC reports as you walk out the station door.  You’ll likely be getting a panicked call from them shortly thereafter.

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Toll-free telephone numbers celebrated their 50th birthday this year (frankly, without much fanfare). These numbers allow callers to reach businesses without being charged for the call. When long distance calling was expensive, these numbers were enticing marketing tools used by businesses to encourage customer calls and provide a single number for nationwide customer service—for example, hotel, airline or car rental reservations.

Toll-free numbers are most valuable to businesses when they are easy to remember because they spell a word (1-877-DENTIST) or have a simple dialing pattern (1-855-222-2222). Like all telephone numbers, however, the FCC considers toll-free numbers to be a public resource, not owned by any single person, business or telephone company. Toll-free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, primarily by telecommunications carriers known as Responsible Organizations. The FCC even has rules that prohibit hoarding (keeping more than you need) or selling toll-free numbers.

But the rules will change if the FCC adopts its recent proposal to assign toll-free numbers by auction as it prepares to open access to its new “833” toll-free numbers. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last week proposes to auction off approximately 17,000 toll-free numbers for which there have been competing requests. The proceeds of these auctions would then be used to reduce the costs of administering toll-free numbers.

The NPRM also contemplates revising the current rules to promote the development of a secondary market for toll-free numbers. This would allow subscribers to reassign toll-free numbers to other businesses for a fee (think 1-800-STUBHUB!). The FCC suggests this would promote economic efficiencies, as the number would presumably be better utilized by a business owner willing to pay for it than by the company that merely happened to claim it first.

The proposed rules are not without controversy. Some toll-free numbers are used to promote health, safety and other public interest goals (e.g., 1-800-SUICIDE). The NPRM seeks comments on whether toll-free numbers used by governmental or certain nonprofit organizations should be exempt from the auction process. There are also questions about whether the expected demand for the 17,000 new numbers will erode if claiming a number is no longer free.

Comments in this proceeding will be due 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, with replies due 30 days after that. If you are interested in filing comments, you can reach us at 1-888-387-5714 Call: 1-888-387-5714.  After all, it’s a toll-free call.